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CDC pleased with geothermal research work plan

On June 6, the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation saw the final draft for a long-awaited work plan for proposed geothermal research in Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County.

“I think he (Gerry Huttrer) has defined the deliverables as asked,” CDC board member Morgan Murri said at the meeting.

Huttrer is president of the Geothermal Management Company (GMC) and one of the geothermal energy experts who has visited Pagosa Springs on numerous occasions to scope out area geothermal resources.

The work plan enumerates steps required for research that would ostensibly determine the extent of geothermal resources in the area.

The Pagosa Springs Town Council twice rejected the opportunity to fund the proposed geothermal study despite support for the plan by Pagosa Springs Mayor Ross Aragon, two endorsements for the research by the CDC, a unanimous vote supporting funding by the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners and funding for the study by the Geothermal Advisory group (comprised of interested local residents and geothermal stakeholders).

In late February, county commissioner and CDC board member Michael Whiting proposed reallocating $30,000 of CDC money to fund the research. Although the BoCC voted unanimously to reallocate their $15,000 portion of CDC funding to pay for research, the town council rejected reallocating its $15,000 of CDC funding. Council members opposed to allocating CDC funds for the research have cited discomfort with a previously proposed work plan outlining the study.

Following council’s stated displeasure with the initial work plan, the CDC proposed paying Huttrer for additional work in developing a refined, more detailed work plan — one that would hopefully satisfy the needs of the council.

In other business, the board heard a report from CDC subcommittee member Muriel Eason regarding progress towards establishing a Business Elevation Program (BEP).

Originally conceived as a “business inoculation program,” the idea is to encourage and assist new and existing businesses to thrive in Pagosa Springs and the surrounding area. That original proposal included providing office spaces to several business owners and would have the advantage of reduced leasing prices (initially), as well as reduced prices for utilities, phone and Internet. The program would also include ongoing mentoring from CDC representatives, along with encouragement to pursue educational opportunities offered through the Small Business Development Center and The Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado.

At the meeting, Eason presented a general strategy on how the CDC should proceed and what deliverables the CDC should expect from BEP efforts. However, Eason conceded that a BEP was largely conceptual at this point and at least a year away from implementation.

Earlier in the meeting, the board also discussed the need to relocate its office from the current location in the Aspen Village office complex.

One of the problems with the current location is that, with no handicap access, the CDC office space violates tenets of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Although several offices had been scoped for relocation, the board was most interested in a cooperative venture with the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce.

Recently, the CoC has considered opening a satellite Visitor Center on the west end of Pagosa Springs (most notably, the Country Center shopping center) to serve visitors staying on that end of town.

However, Pagosa Springs Mayor (and the town’s representative on the CDC board) Ross Aragon asked CoC director Mary Jo Coulehan if there was room for CDC offices in the Visitor Center.

Coulehan responded that there is no available space for the CDC at the Visitor Center.

CDC board president Mike Alley then asked Aragon about a previously proposed land exchange and lease agreement with Bill Whittington, owner of The Springs Resort.

In late 2008, Whittington offered to build an estimated $3 million Visitor Center on land on the east side of Hot Springs Boulevard (across the street from the current Visitor Center), then lease that facility to the town. In exchange, the town would give Whittington the current Visitor Center and property, with the town acquiring the former CDOT equipment yard just west of the Sisson Library on U.S. 160.

Purchased by The Springs Resort in August 2007 for $285,000 at an auction of county properties during the county’s attempt to mitigate its fiscal problems), the former CDOT property was offered to the town in trade five months after its purchase.

Specifically, after a proposed multimillion dollar expansion (presented to town council by The Springs Resort in January 2008) was suggested earlier, a two-for-one trade was suggested, offering the former CDOT site for the site of the current Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, as well as the site of the old Seeds of Learning building at the corner of San Juan Street and Hot Springs Boulevard.

When the matter of the trade was considered by council in October 2008, several council members questioned the wisdom of the land exchange, especially given environmental issues with the former CDOT site.

The last environmental study conducted on the property was delivered in October 2005 — a fact confirmed by county officials and representatives of The Springs Resort. Findings of that report indicated there were issues with buried solid waste and three underground storage tanks that remained on the property. Furthermore, cleanup estimates provided that same year, went as high as $50,000, a cost that would now likely be higher given the increases in fuel and material costs over the past six years.

Eventually, the matter of a land exchange was dropped and has not been considered since then. At that time, Aragon told SUN staff that the trade was “not being seriously considered,” and that, “We’ll have a better idea of where we stand on the trade once the appraisals come in,” adding that any serious discussion of a trade is contingent on those appraisals.

To date, no appraisals for the properties have been conducted.

Yet, at last week’s CDC meeting, Aragon shifted gears on the proposed exchange.

“We can certainly revive those talks,” Aragon said.

When asked how soon discussions on the exchange could be addressed, Aragon told the board, “Within the next few days.”

However, even if the town revisits the matter of the proposed land exchange, it would most likely be at least three years before the CDC could move into that location. Obviously, the CDC would need to select an interim location if it intends to meet ADA requirements.

Likewise, it appears that the CDC’s BEP initiative could also be somewhat down the road

What does look more timely is possible research on the area’s geothermal resources. Yet, with the delivery to the CDC of geothermal research work plan, the ultimate determination for funding that research continues to reside with town council — and that determination would not be considered until June 23 at the earliest.

The CDC meets again Monday, June 20, at 3 p.m. in the CDC offices, located at 2800 Cornerstone Dr., upstairs in Suite B-1 (the office building across from Sears in Aspen Village). The public is welcome to attend all CDC meetings.

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